Sharps & flats

Ubiquity's "The New Latinaires" fuses Latin jazz with electronic ingenuity.

Published May 21, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

House producers, always on the lookout for new syncopated rhythms, have been appropriating and incorporating Latin jazz into happy dance tracks for the past decade. There's an easy similarity between the two forms, both engineered to get dancers to move their feet. But for whatever reason, ever since London-based Richie Rich recorded "Salsa House" in the late '80s, the fusion has been relatively flat, lacking exceptionally creative interpretations.

"The New Latinaires," a new compilation from the Ubiquity dance label, identifies the essence of Latin jazz, echoing Dizzy Gillespie and its 1940s roots, and challenges the genre's conventions with more ingenuity than its electronica predecessors.

The record includes seven producers redefining and re-integrating Latin jazz influences into their own original dance tracks, and also includes a few remixes of Latin standards. With work by Detroit techno god Carl Craig, and a host of lesser-knowns like Jazzanova, Izuru Utsumi, Beatless and Capsule 150, the album is an unusual fusion of moody, forward-thinking electronic music and romantic, old-school salsa.

Carl Craig puts his reputable skills to work on a remix of Johnny Blas' elegant "Picadillo," and transports the traditional Latin sound into an urgent, post-rave sensibility. Older clubbers will recognize the distant conga echoes from early '90s rave tracks, reworked here with Craig's cerebral dance-floor style.

The creative breakdown continues with Jazzanova's "Atabaque," a congo-led house track that culminates in an ecstatic salsa groove. And Izuru Utsumi's "Zum Zum" -- built around a down-tempo Latin drum beat -- flourishes into a strange but beautiful melange of surfer rock and off-center Latin house.

A few of the artists are so confident of their interpretation of Latin jazz that they almost abandon it altogether. Capsule 150's "Octopus," a song with only vague Latin hints, deconstructs the genre into a flush of Max Roach-style drumming, a slightly Latin bass line and spacey electronics. The group, like the rest of the outfits on "The New Latinaires," overtly expands the parameters of Latin jazz while keeping them grounded on danceable, house-music terrain.

By Amanda Nowinski

Amanda Nowinski is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

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